The bicameral conference committee deliberating on the differing versions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) got off to a bumpy start yesterday as it ended in a stalemate on the contentious territorial jurisdiction of the proposed Bangsamoro region.
Deliberations by the Senate and House of Representatives contingents bogged down when the matter of territorial jurisdiction in the proposed new political entity in Mindanao was taken up.
There were also intense debates on issued concerning wealth sharing, exclusive and reserve powers of government.
Despite this, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who led the Senate contingent, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the first day of the five-day consultative meetings with the Congress team, led by House Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.
“We’re off to a good start. We finished three articles of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” said Zubiri.
“Although we got bogged down on territorial jurisdiction, we decided to table it and defer action on it at a later time and agree on all the acceptable provisions,” he added.
Zubiri stressed that the conferees agreed that they will craft a law that will enhance the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that was branded as a failed experiment to address the decades old Bangsamoro Question.
“We’ve reached a consensus that whatever was in the ARMM Law, Republic Act 9054, we will retain and hopefully enhance,” said Zubiri.
ARMM plus preferred
“In other words, we do not want an ARMM minus, we want an ARMM plus,” he added.
The territorial jurisdiction provision of the proposed BBL covers 39 barangays in Cotabato and Lanao del Norte.
Zubiri maintained that the inclusion of the said barangays, if agreed by the bicameral committee, will still be subjected to the approval of local residents through a plebiscite.
On the power sharing provision, Zubiri said “the Senate will stick to its resolve that we should only be discussing powers granted to the Bangsamoro government.”
“We will clearly define powers of the Bangsamoro government,” he added.
Zubiri, on the other hand, said that the Senate is open to adopting the House version on wealth sharing which 75-25 in favor of the Bangsamoro government.
He noted the “full house” attendees from the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), led by Chairman Al Haj Murad, MILF Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar and chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
Jaafar wants 39 barangays
Jaafar, in a chance interview by reporters, stressed the inclusion of the 39 barangays in the Bangsamoro territory by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is supported by both the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) –citing historical “Empire Province of Cotabato.”
“It is very important that the BBL to be passed and enacted into law should be acceptable to the leaderships of the MILF and the MNLF,” said Jaafar.
“That (Empire Province of Cotabato) is the traditional province of the Moro, including non-Muslim Moro in that region that’s why the people there should be included if the Moros are given their own government,” said Jaafar.
Jaafar said that the “Empire Province of Cotabato” is composed of what is now the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani and the cities of Cotabato, Kidapawan, Tacurong, Marbel and General Santos.
He echoed Zubiri’s statement that residents of the said 39 barangays will have the final say to their inclusion, including six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and Basilan, through a plebiscite.
The MILF vice chairman also emphasized that they want all provisions of the ARMM law to be retained in addition to what the BTC has proposed.
“Generally, I don’t think people in the ground can accept at this point a BBL that is watered down,” said Jaafar, adding he could not predict what would happen if the BBL fails to be passed into law.
But Jaafar maintained the MILF is committed to the peaceful settlement of the Bangsamoro question.
At the same time, he stressed that the proposed BBL will not be Islamic but a democratic and inclusive one that is open to all, Muslims, Christians and lumads alike.
“We believe that the best way to resolve the Bangsamoro Issue is thru peace process, the most civilized way most peaceful way,” said Jaafar.
“What is this Bangsamoro issue that I am talking to you now, this is the legitimate desire of the Bangsamoro people to have a government of its own which is not Islamic…which is democratic that is our assurance and which is inclusive of everybody. Meaning this government respects the rights of all citizens living there the Christians, the Lumads the IP (indigenous people), the Chinese, the datus, the sultans, the Muslims of course,” he added.
Fariñas, for his part, urged his fellow conferees to strictly follow the provisions of the 1987 Constitution in finalizing the BBL proposal.
“I appeal to everybody that we work hand in hand, we have to be guided by the Constitution. We have to ensure that anything we do and everything that we do here will be compliant to the Constitution because surely this will be challenged,” he said.